COVID-19 Sustainable Lessons 03: Three Keys to Project Work During the Outbreak

The worldwide coronavirus outbreak is not the first world war, nor the great depression nor the second world war. For those with an awareness of history, we know that those events were horrific and challenging times that we got through and fortunately came out stronger on the other side. The worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and the resulting economic, financial, and social challenges is something we must understand, accept, and actively respond to in order to get through successfully once again. What this crises has offered humanity though, is the realization that many of our beliefs, priorities and practices need re-evaluating and that we need to make some hard societal decisions moving forward. GPM is uniquely positioned to help with these discussions and initiatives to re-balance the people, planet and profit implications.

In this post we are coming from the perspective of Project Health and Safety, an element in our P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management [Reference 1], a free download, that says:

The project team should:

  • Identify and comply with any relevant health and safety laws and regulations.
  • Identify and evaluate options for controlling hazards.
  • Develop plans to protect workers during emergencies and non-routine activities.
  • Review new technologies for their potential to be more protective, more reliable, or less costly.
  • Minimize the impact of the product on the health and safety of all involved.

Enhanced project health and safety helps to achieve the following sustainable project outcomes:

  • A safe, secure, and healthy workplace for the project team, which in turn results in a more engaged and committed staff.
  • Minimal lost time and costs from workplace illness and injuries.
  • Avoidance of fines and penalties from breaches of health and safety laws and regulations.

In sustainability, there are many aspects, but one that is actionable is that sustainability and risk mitigation go hand in hand. i.e. brand protection and product life-cycle maximization. The following three approaches regarding projects and implementing new practices during this outbreak will help empower your chances of success by incorporating basic sustainable project recommendations.

But please… remember the basics outlined below fro the World Health Organization [Reference 2]… be a good person… and be sustainable and socially responsible:

1: Accept the reality of the current demands

It is important to emphasize listening to the recognized and respected professionals (Doctors and Scientists from globally recognized and internationally respected institutions such as the World Health Organization WHO, obtain and focus on the real numbers and trending, and focus on the facts. Also recognize that this is an evolving situation requiring flexibility and (dare I say it) agility.

What is being asked worldwide is for a major transformational acceptance and change in our behaviours with short term pain for long term gain. Following the Prosci A-D-K-A-R management of change approach [Reference 3] is a sensible framework to start to frame the response. We had originally included a detailed A-D-K-A-R management of change approach in this post, but due to its length we have provided a separate post on transformational change: COVID-19 Sustainable Lessons 03: Transformational Change Requirements.

As we indicated in the beginning around P5, Project Health and Safety needs to be a priority. We have all seen the flattening the COVID-19 curve outlined below.

The threat and issue with COVID-19 is the impact of the exponential growth within unprepared communities. If not incorporated in our practices and treated early and aggressively, COVID-19 can spread out of control, and in many cases the national lack of preparedness and the additional cost and stress to the medical infrastructure and resulting impact on economies can be overwhelming. The image below is from April 6, 2020 showing the daily growth rate of the virus confirmed cases internationally. Each bar represents the additional cases per day globally based on region.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-2019) WHO Daily Situation Reports

Please listen to the experts, and incorporate the transformational change practices into your initiatives.

2: Use risk management techniques such as GPM’s P5

For your projects continue to use the GPM P5 analysis tool and the GPM P5 Impact Analysis toolkit. Remember to consider all of these areas. By taking the time, unnecessary crises and threats like those created at US airports during the new pre-screening can be avoided [Reference 16]. Please refer to our blog post “How to Use GPM’s P5.”


3: Take an asset life cycle portfolio & benefits perspective

For most, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and most recover in a couple of weeks. For older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including respiratory crises and pneumonia, and possibly death. We should consider asset life cycle, benefits management and portfolio management guidance in our assessments to have the appropriate perspectives and understanding.

Asset Management and Benefits Management Considerations

The challenge is that the current mortality rate is flawed due to bad data, and the concept of lag effect [Reference 19] [Reference 20]. What this means is that we have a similar problem associated with benefits management and asset management… it depends when you conduct the assessment. Do we test people after 5 days, 10 days, 15 days… what if those that had Coronavirus died later due to implications related to the illness.  As with benefits management, we don’t know when we will realize the threats / costs / deaths and benefits / returning to being healthy.

To extend this perspective:

  • When does the population accept the requirements for social distancing practices and other outbreaks guidelines (benefit and opportunity)?
  • When is the medical infrastructure able to respond appropriately to societies basic health needs (benefit and opportunity)?
  • When does the population achieve a sufficient “herd” resistance to help slow down the infection rate (benefit and opportunity?
  • When does society have the testing infrastructure and tracking mechanism for infected citizens and vaccines to respond to this disease (benefit and opportunity)?
  • Do governments not react quickly enough to test and track the disease and advise the populace of necessary information to survive and cope (dis-benefit and threat)?
  • Do governments, social media and talking heads continue to focus on ideology as opposed to proven scientific data and mis-inform the populace resulting in unnecessary delays, confusion, misunderstandings and dangerous behaviours (dis-benefit and threat)?
  • Does the disease spread so quickly and infect so many that the medical infrastructure becomes overwhelmed (as in Italy) and their is unnecessary deaths (dis-benefit and threat)?
  • Does the disease mutate and cause another outbreak to deal with (dis-benefit and threat)?


Portfolio Management

From a portfolio management perspective, we need to look at the population as a whole and what actions make the most sense to invest in (testing, social distancing, social and financial support, monitoring movement).

Some of the options presented and recommendations based on scientific and mathematical scenario planning are outlined below [Reference 18]:

If we consider portfolio management we can assemble a portfolio of project / work package responses for our assets such that the expected return is maximized for a given level of risk. The key insight is that an asset’s risk and return should not be assessed by itself, but by how it contributes to a portfolio’s overall risk and return. So what does this mean:

  • For our projects we should avoid social interaction through moderate and extensive distancing
  • Work at home
  • Leverage online meetings and collaboration
  • Reach out and stay in touch with our peers and share ideas, updates and factual data and recommendations
  • As much as possible continue to engage staff and suppliers and pay them
  • You do not want your staff and suppliers going bankrupt or suffering through this period, or getting a negative reputation with your network about how you responded

Evaluate the level of risk and the benefits return of your actions (taking a longer term asset life cycle and reputation / brand perspective).


Let’s ensure our projects, our teams, and our stakeholders are safe and healthy!


GPM Global is dedicated to ensuring that our posts are transparent and fact based from sources that can be trusted. Providing these references can also take up a lot of space and distract from the blog post. We have provided the detailed sources for our post here.

Peter Milsom

Peter Milsom is an entrepreneurial advocate for sensible, sustainable change delivery practice. Peter has come to realize that sustainability is the perfect catalyst for Project / Programme / Portfolio / Risk / Value / Business Case and Benefits Management improvement. As an entrepreneurial methodologist Peter's unique value proposition is the vast array of tools and techniques that he brings to every engagement using the most cost effective and efficient methods based on the situation and tailored to meet your needs. This is based on his unique combination of experience and extensive training / certifications in change delivery, value / risk / benefits management business case, and business architecture.

One thought to “COVID-19 Sustainable Lessons 03: Three Keys to Project Work During the Outbreak”

  1. Congratulations Peter, many thanks for this outstanding, precise, detailed enough to apply in practice and very mobilizing for staff!

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